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November 15, 2011

Back To The Basics

Jennifer Berol Bliss rode Poker Face at the Capital Challenge (Md.). Photo by Parker/Russell-The Book LLC Photo.

The week after indoors is sort of like the day after Christmas. It feels a little bit like a letdown! While I appreciate that this is the time of year to give the horses a well-deserved break, the diehard horse-shower in me already misses the excitement and anticipation of indoors.

When I was a kid I would get really stir-crazy this time of year. I had to be working towards something at all times, or I might forget how to ride! I used to lock my stirrups in a trunk and flat without stirrups to "start getting tighter for Florida." Never mind that it was freezing cold in November and December before we left, or that we didn't have an indoor ring and the horses were wild.

I still feel that same sentiment, though I react to it in a little bit of a safer way. I do really enjoy going back to the basics a bit in the downtime we have before the new show season starts. I like to sort of check in with where my horses are now, keeping in mind what they’ve done the last few months and what they have coming up ahead. I like to reassess and figure out what they need to work on and make a plan with that in mind. It usually includes lots of flatwork and ground rails and gymnastics, and some trail riding if I am feeling brave!

I like to work on myself as well and address things I feel I need to improve on and strengthen my position. I just don't feel the need to ride every horse every day without stirrups anymore!

This time of year I also go to quite a few local one-day horse shows with some of my students. I remember being a little kid and feeling every bit as excited and nervous for those shows as I would later feel for Devon and indoors. It gives me a lot of satisfaction to see some of the younger kids start to progress at the horse shows, whether it is a first show on a new horse or getting their first score in the 80s on their green pony. Every class and every little victory is meaningful in its own way.

And I'm also able to give my kids a little perspective if things don't go as well as they had hoped. I can tell them that they have such a long way to go; that they will keep moving on to bigger and better things, and that the process requires a lot of mileage and a lot of hard lessons along the way.

I had to tell one little kid about my very naughty short stirrup pony, and how in those days if I only fell off once it was a great day! Or how the perfect school pony she is sitting on went through phases as a terribly difficult green pony and then a wonderful, fancy pony hunter before becoming the teacher she is today. 

This sport has a lot of peaks and valleys, and you have to really commit to it for the long haul. It is fun—and sometimes scary!—to think about where you’ve been as you dream about where you want to end up. It is nice to sometimes take a step back and remember how much you love the horses and the day-to-day interaction with them without any real agenda. It is such a privilege to have a life built around horses, and I try to remind myself of that every day.

Jennifer Berol Bliss had a very successful junior career, which included achievements such as earning USEF Pony Finals championships, national championships in the pony and junior hunter divisions, and top 15 placings in all the major equitation finals. She ran her own business, Harris Hill Farm, from 2007 until 2011. In September 2011, she joined Sleepy Hollow Stables in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., as a rider and trainer. Jennifer is a USHJA Certified Trainer, as well as a member of the USHJA Young Professionals Committee.